Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

This well-written and enlightening novel delivers a sordid little known slice of history that may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, sickened and saddened as you contemplate some of the cruelties and customs of our ancestors.

Wench tells the story of some of the habitual guests of a luxury summer resort hotel in Ohio called Tawawa House where rich white Southern plantation owners would bring their Negro slave mistresses for a few weeks’ vacation each year.

The vivid and haunting cast of characters includes Lizzie, a young slave woman who is literate in a time when it was illegal for a slave to know how to read, who tries to convince herself that she truly lovers her master even though he refuses to give their children the precious gift of freedom. Then there is voluptuous, baby-faced Sweet, pregnant yet again. And Reenie whose master is actually her half-brother, determined not to have more children by him, she has secretly “fixed” herself. Reenie dreads the summers at Tawawa House because her master has made some sort of arrangement with the hotel manager that involves giving Reenie to him for occasional sex. Then there is exotic, imperious, mysterious red-haired Mawu from New Orleans’, schooled in Voodoo by an old conjuring man, she has lost the ability to love after her master sold off each of the children she bore him, and incites the others to join her in a plot to runaway.

This is a very sad and moving story, the women and their feelings leap off the pages, and one can’t help but feel for them and hope each one will have a happy ending all the while knowing that given the prejudices of the era they lived in this is unlikely.

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